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'Where you start in life, should not limit where you go'

Brighton Degree Ceremony. Saturday 19th October 2019.

Just over two years after sitting the DE200 exam at The Brighton Centre, I was back there for my graduation. On that bleak June 2017 day, I could not imagine graduation day happening for me. On a surprisingly sunny October 2019 day, I was grateful to that bleak day, indeed, to all the difficult days that I had experienced on the journey to this destination. I was especially fortunate because I was situated next to the aisle and got to see the academic procession enter and exit; so special because two of the wonderful tutors from my journey were members. Walking across the stage took mere seconds, but as various memories from the steps preceding this moment flashed across my mind, the enormity of the achievement began to sink in. Reflecting upon; City Road, IPTV, biophilia, SPSS, Mad or Bad?, and discourse analysis, all the trials and tribulations of the preceding six years had led to this occasion.

Graduation day goes by in a blur. The moment you walk into the venue, it is as if entering another world. The stress is minimised by the precision of the day. I was in a daze as I checked in. When I got to the Ede & Ravenscroft area, the staff were efficient and congratulatory: what could be a cold exchange was instead a warming moment of being robed by a friendly and encouraging man. Unsurprisingly there was quite the queue for the Ede & Ravenscroft photography suite however, it was an amiable atmosphere and we shared in the pride and joy of our peers and their families as we saw the capturing of memories that will endure. My turn went by in a flash - so to speak! - and the photographer masterfully positioned me to get some great shots.

The Open University Students Association were selling various merchandise which many of us purchased as further memories of our Open University journey. The volunteers at the stand were approachable and good-humoured despite the need to wave card readers at the window or even outside for a signal! Spread around the venue were various Open University logos and paraphernalia for the many selfies posted to social media to stake our claim as members of the #OUFamily. The venue itself had a popular mural for photography, plus we could also venture to the sea front: the benefits of graduating in Brighton! It was a busy but friendly time prior to the graduation ceremony starting.

Entering the auditorium is hard to describe. The pictures we have seen of other ceremonies over the years have come to life. As the mass of caped graduands took our assigned seats, so too did the hundreds of friends, partners and families who were sharing in the day. We did not do this in silence. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra played a diverse programme of pieces, including Pachelbel's Canon, the 'Wallace and Gromit' theme and culminating with the 'Adams Family' theme. Yes, we clicked our fingers! Before a well-earned break, the orchestra played in the academic procession as they took their seats upon the stage.
Our presiding officer, Professor Kevin Hetherington, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, opened the congregation. Professor Hetherington informed us that we were the twentieth graduation ceremony of the year, and that we had some pioneer Open University graduates with us, who had been in the first graduation ceremony, held in 1973. Despite the solemn robes adorning the room, we were encouraged to embrace the celebration of the day through 'thunderous applause' and other exaltations, for example, dancing across the stage or the various selfies taken. There were cheers, there were babies and there was rapturous applause which never wavered. #OUFamily out in force!

Halfway through the ceremony saw our honorary graduate, Howard Goodall CBE, receive his award: Services to the Arts and Sciences; Doctor of the University. Dr Robert Samuels, Senior Lecturer in Music, introduced Mr Goodall by touching upon his extensive body of work and how he brings together the 'traditional with the modern', his belief that 'every child has the right to make music', as well as his recognition of the role of education in social justice. Mr Goodall then gave a glorious address which deserves to be viewed1 by as many people as possible. Mr Goodall spoke about the relevance of time to music: music has its own time. Music can transport us back to a specific moment. How many of us have songs that remind us of a particular module? Using the example of the painting, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Mr Goodall stated that while a painting captures a moment in time, when a piece of music is played, it 'starts again'. Mr Goodall expressed to us that when we sing along to Beyoncé in the car, we are starting that music again: it is 'alive'. 'Music is magical', he said, because it has no barriers of language, age, generation or aspiration: just like The Open University.

Once the remaining graduates had taken to the stage, Professor Hetherington returned to the lectern to deliver a final address. He talked about our achievement and recognised the sacrifices and competing responsibilities we faced throughout our studies, such as working or disability issues. Professor Hetherington talked about the various research that The Open University has conducted, as well as collaborations with the BBC and the FutureLearn2 platform which has a myriad of available courses. He also recognised the many members of The Open University who help students, such as student support, the team at the graduation ceremony, the academics who write the modules, and the associate lecturers who keep us going through the hard times, such my two tutors from the academic procession who were unwavering in their support of their students and who embody all that make The Open University such a great institution.

Professor Hetherington said that 'changing lives is exactly what the OU is all about' and aptly described the university as 'a movement of millions: a mission of one'. There were hundreds of people in the auditorium, members from many different backgrounds, but we were together for the same reason: celebration. Throughout the ceremony, the Open University crest had been onscreen above the stage, its motto, Learn and Live, beaming out as we marked a milestone of learning and a milestone in our lives. Professor Hetherington told us that we 'are a member of a university that believes that where you start in life should not limit where you go'. Once the congregation had been closed, the orchestra began to play us all out. The academic procession led the way, with the graduates following: celebratory drinks were in order!

In a room with a beautiful sea view, we had drinks and mingled with our guests and each other. Ede and Ravenscroft had taken a picture of each graduate in their moment on the stage and it was possible to purchase it. When the time came, we were able to return our hired gowns to Ede and Ravenscroft efficiently. We began to venture off for further celebrations, with fond memories having been made.

Leaving the Brighton Centre after graduation, June 2017 seemed a lifetime ago. The ceremony had been a joyous occasion. We were celebrating our personal achievement, as well as those of our peers. We had applauded until our hands fizzed, smiled from ear-to-ear and heard inspirational speeches. I had graduated six years after first registering for The Open University. Studying at the OU has changed my life and opened my mind. My aforementioned reflections from my modules are but a few words each yet they elicit such strong memories of textbooks, tutorials, TMAs and tutors. The 'music is magical' address by Howard Goodall will stay with me a long time, and not just because I will, from now on, insist I am making music when I subject people to my singing! The motto, Learn and Live, motivates me for the future because, after all, where I started in life does not limit where I can go.

1. The graduation ceremony video on YouTube. Dr Samuels begins at 42:25 and Mr Goodall's address starts at 47:12.

2. https://www.futurelearn.com/


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